You’ve had a few months off over winter, and now it’s on again. Let Surrey’s classy opener Rory Burns help you negotiate those tricky first weeks in April.
It’s weird not hitting balls, and feels strange getting back into your stance. Before hitting a ball, I spend some time just with the bat in the hands, down in the stance, getting my balance right. Personally I’ve got a few nuances and quirks so it’s a case of trying to remember how to grip it, what I’m looking at, and what I’m meant to be doing.
RAMPING IT UP
First it was a case of nothing more than 60mph half-volleys, in order to remember how to pick up the bat and hit the ball. As basic as that. After 20 minutes of throwdowns, our coach brings out the dog stick to throw a few more down with more pace. Still at a full length, but this time from the full 22 yards.
Finally, no more lovely half-volleys. I want to see if I can get out of the way of the thing, so I repeat the process, but this time with flat throwdowns around the earholes!
As an opening batsman there are two big principles. Firstly, you want to play the ball as late as you can, right under your eyes, to deal with any late movement in the air or off the pitch. And you’ve got to be able to play the short ball, because there will definitely be a few of them flying around!
DRILL #1: DROPPING THE BALL AT YOUR FEET
Get the thrower to throw underarm full tosses with a tennis ball. I want to play it as late as possible. I’m literally trying to drop the ball right at my feet. I want to hit it into the floor, right under my eyes, and then watch it slowly bounce back to the thrower.
DRILL #2: CHIN MUSIC
Start off facing underarm throws, from five or six yards away. The sole purpose is to get out of the way. You’re not allowed to hit a shot. Fizzing at your head. Flat, directed at your chest and head, straight at you. You’ve got to bob and weave.
THE BURNS BACKLIFT
It all started when I was a kid. I was small and I couldn’t hit the ball! I needed to generate more power in my shots. I never used to take my hands away from my body, like Brian Lara or Mark Butcher. So my coach encouraged me to watch those players. It’s basically to get my hands up, away from my body, and to cock my wrists. I prefer the leg-side and it helps get that extra power through those areas, especially in one-day cricket. It also helps with the pull and the cut, because your hands are coming down on the ball from a high position.
In four-day cricket my back foot’s the trigger. Back and across, keeping myself open and getting my head over to off-stump, so I’ve got some idea of the line of off-stump from where I’ll be comfortable leaving the ball.
These days I take a middle-stump guard and move across. I changed to middle a couple of years ago. I used to take middle-and-leg, but I found I wasn’t getting as many balls on my legs as I would like. And moving over across my stumps also meant that I could hit straighter through the off-side.
‘NARROW YOUR FOCUS’
I remember speaking to the Aussie opener Phil Jaques a few years ago and he talked about the first 25 balls. Getting through those 25 balls to give yourself a chance. If you get a half-volley on your pads, then you hit it away, but in the grand scheme of things, it pays to narrow your focus, and pick your areas from there.
I stare at the ball as much as I can. I’m even looking for the seam as it comes down, looking for any clues. I’m staring at the ball five yards before the bowler’s released it. I don’t get how players can focus on an area of the pitch and go from there.